The Writer’s Imperative

Typewriter Letters

Courtesy of Laineys Repertoire via Flickr

It’s skydiving. We are taking an enormous risk, and in exchange, we get an enormous high.


I promised you three posts this week. It’s Friday and I’ve done two. It seems like an excellent time to introduce the very first post I’m willing to showcase on Gunmetal Geisha other than my own. My criterion is simple: The words and ideas need to feel as if I tried on a new voice and wrote them myself. “The Writer’s Imperative” is written by Joshua E. Smith, one of the first readers of Gunmetal Geisha. Joshua and I have a special relationship. I texted him, “May I copy and paste ‘The Writer’s Imperative’ on my own blog? I would re-blog it, but I’m not going to like the way it’ll look on my front page.” He understands my obsessive tics. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons his piece deeply resonates with me. He puts into words what compels many of us to write.

I’ve been a writer all my life. I wrote my first “book” when I was around six. I transcribed it onto ditto sheets, so my mother could run off copies at work. (If you have any idea what I’m talking about, congratulations: you’re old, too.) It was a short story with illustrations. Once I had my copies, I gave them out to everyone I knew.

When I was in high school, I was inducted to National Honor Society. Every year they did a “tag day” fundraiser. The students would stand on street corners in town and ask for money. If you donated, they gave you a “tag” you could wear, so nobody else would ask you for money, I suppose. The money went to a scholarship fund. So the NHS students were begging on street corners, raising money for scholarships that would certainly only go to NHS students. I found this embarrassing and degrading and I wanted nothing to do with it. So I wrote an open letter of protest, made 100 copies, and left the stack in the teacher’s lounge. (They made tag day participation optional.)

In college, I wrote an op-ed column for the school paper. I wrote about topics that interested me, which was pretty much just school and sex. I mocked the work-study students who staged a “labor action.” I mocked the women from the neighboring “secretary school” who came to frat parties at our engineering college looking for husband material. I mocked the teachers. I mocked the admissions department, which then threatened to sue me.

When I entered the workforce, I wrote position papers. I attacked the status quo of defense modeling and simulation mercilessly.

I’ve blogged on and off since blogging was a thing. I write yelp reviews. I blog for my company now and then (although they rarely publish anything I write, because it scares and/or bores them).

I write.

Why the hell do I write so much?

And why do I write about topics that inflame and degrade and expose myself and others?

A certain individual in my life, whom I love more than anything, more than life itself, is “mortified” by what I write. And yet, here I am, writing.

It is an imperative. I have to write. And I’ve been thinking about why that is. It’s not for the money. I’ve never earned a cent from my blog or my tweets or those columns or letters or position papers. My situation is similar to an actor in community theater. Why spend all that time rehearsing, in order to stand up and perform? Or an amateur musician playing in a garage band, hoping for a gig, any gig, where people can hear you play. Why? Or the local artist friend I have who puts her paintings on display at the library, with no intention of selling them. Why?

It’s all the same thing. You might call it love or passion, but I’m inclined to view it a little more clinically. It’s skydiving.

We are taking an enormous risk, and in exchange, we get an enormous high. And like any “chasing the high” situation, our risks need to increase over time. Writing about something safe is skydiving from a stool. Writing and not publishing is putting on a parachute, then sitting on a couch to watch TV. You have to take the risk, or you don’t get the reward.

I have an addictive personality. Twenty-five years ago, the thing I liked most about smoking was the first cigarette of the day. The fixer. I’m addicted to human contact in the same way. A single touch gives me a rush of endorphins, as strong as any drug could. Getting lost in the throes of passion will sustain me on a euphoric high for a day or more. And I’m addicted to writing.

Although I am prone to addiction, I am also ridiculously good at giving up my addictions. When my college girlfriend, who had asthma, was ready to move in with me, I had to stop smoking. So I did. Just. Stopped. Although I very much enjoy the endorphin rush, I don’t need it. For me, addiction is a nice-to-have, not a have-to-have.

So I could just stop writing. The imperative is self-imposed.

But I will not stop writing. Because I just don’t see the harm. When I write about sex, and it becomes crystal clear that, deep down, I’m a 14-year-old boy, I’m OK with that. I’m not embarrassed by that. It is who I am.

When I write about how much I love and adore my wife, I’m not telling you anything that I wouldn’t tell anyone who would listen. I remember being at a party a few years ago, and meeting a new person, and the first thing I told him was “I am the luckiest man in the world.” He was taken aback. He looked around, saw my house, my yard, my family, and concurred. I am the luckiest man in the world, and that fact occupies enough space in my brain that it’s frequently what I want to write about.

Sometimes, we have to decide whether to be true to our own nature, or change who we are to please others. And it’s never a simple decision. Sometimes changing is the right thing to do. Smoking was harmful to myself and those around me, so that was a relatively easy decision. My wife cannot stand the smell of coffee, and I’m seriously considering whether that addiction is worth the trouble it causes me. But writing is the one addiction I’ve had my whole life that I’ve never even considered giving up. And by “writing,” I mean writing funny, embarrassing, provocative things that are edgy and risky enough that they matter. I don’t want to give that up. Writing is the addiction I’d like to keep.

If you haven’t read GG’s latest posts, check them out:
The Middle-Aged Teenager
What You’re Getting Yourself Into

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  1. FRIST!

    1. Ha, and that’s all you got?

      1. Worlds imploded and I was the star at the very centre of a nebula of spacejunk orbiting ever faster and ever closer to causing total chaos.

        So for NOW yes, but I will return.

        (I am not a black hole)
        ((But I *was* still FRIST! HA!))

  2. Sreejit Poole · · Reply

    Skydiving – that’s a good comparison. I write because I want to share, and… I want you to love me for it. hahaha. It’s the only chance I have to be the king of my own universe. – Actually I started writing to let the demons – I mean ideas – out, but then I noticed it was also a good way to let the love in and I think that’s where the addiction came from.

    1. “Let the love in” is the best euphemism for “PLEASE LOVE ME!” I’ve heard. Anyway, addiction is awesome and we should totally team up to redeem its image. Unrelated, PLEASE LOVE ME.

      1. Sreejit Poole · ·

        I LOVE YOU, man. And, I’m all in for the 12 step merengue grapevine thing.

  3. Paul · · Reply

    Interesting post. I like it. And it does resonate with your style GG. Good choice. As afar as the writing is concerned, I can understand the rush when the words are just right.

    1. I’m adding “resonates with the style of GG” to my linked-in profile. As for the words being just right, that sounds amazing. I look forward to that happening for me sometime. Right now I’m getting a rush deleting adverbs from my novel.

  4. I’d say there are worlds of pleasure between physical addictions (which you can live without) and psychological/intellectual ones (which I think would be nigh on impossible to relinquish). I’m pretty sure at this stage (because for me, writing is about the connection – the chance to entertain the reader and to make them FEEL (as well as the deeper-level stuff of building friendships with other bloggers)) I couldn’t do it, nor would I want to exist in a world where I had to go without.

    1. Okay, you, me, GG, and that Sreejit fellow are going to start a 12 step program for writing addiction. Except the 12 steps are just a merengue grapevine thing, and they start and end at the bar.

      1. HA! Sounds like the kind of 12-step programme which ends up with drunk text messages rather than writing (not that there isn’t a time and a place for those…)

  5. I love the skydiving analogy. And the idea that writing without publishing is like putting on a parachute and sitting on the couch. I may have to steal that from you the next time someone asks me why I blog.

    I tend to have an addictive personality too, and it is based on “like” rather than “need.” I’m “addicted” to human touch, to the rush of feeling like I set someone’s world on fire (these days my husband, in the past… well… ), a pour of bourbon each night and to writing. The only one of these I could easily give up is the bourbon. And now I feel like I’ve revealed too much and I’m going to leave. But I do love this piece, thank you.

    1. People like my writing a lot better when GG puts it on her blog. You should come see it slumming on my blog. It’s not nearly as good.

      Feel free to steal whatever you want. I’ll never find out anyway. But I will give you one word of hard-won advice: put down the bourbon before you set anything on fire.

      Also, thank you for your kind words. I’m a smart ass, but I do appreciate them.

      1. Paul · ·

        Bwahaha! “Put down the bourbon before you set anything on fire.” My personal experience is it is best to save the bourbon when all else is on fire. You’ll need it. Ha! Have to tell you this one – it is hilarious. When I was trucking I had a colleague by the name of Keith. Keith was a Teddy Bear but he ran about 425 pounds, stood 6’6″, wore leathers and rode with a motorcycle gang when he wasn’t trucking. He was THE most laid back and calm person I ever met – not once did I see him angry, upset or even in a rush. He even spoke slowly with a drawl. One summer day we had checked into a motel we frequented in St. John’s Newfoundland as we had been laid over waiting for loads back to the States. We had unhooked Keith’s tractor from his empty trailer and had gone out for some supper – 4 of us packed into one cab. As we pulled back into the motel parking lot, we could see flames and smoke pouring from the open window in Keith’s room. The whole motel was wood frame and the specter of fire was a scary one. We jumped from the truck, grabbed fire extinguishers from our trucks and ran to the room, When we burst into the room, the bed against the wall was in flames and the fire was making headway on the wall. Two guys pulled the flaming mattress and end table into the parking lot while two others put out the wall. Keith meanwhile had made a bee-line for a big bottle of Bourbon he had been saving for the evening’s entertainment. As he grabbed the bottle and his suitcase he was muttering in his down east drawl :

        “Jeeeesus Keee -rhist, my goddamn room’s on fire.”

        The bourbon and the motel were both saved. It turned out there had been an electrical plug behind the bed which had overheated due to aluminum wiring, and had caught the bed-sheets on fire. The moral of the story is when your room is on fire, save the bourbon. 😀

      2. My god, you always have the best stories.

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